The race is on to breed better birds as chicken emerges as the protein of the masses ... Unlike the roughly 60 billion chickens world-wide now slaughtered for meat each year, these birds are raised for their DNA. Paul Siegel, professor emeritus of animal and poultry sciences, studies how their genes influence the way they pack on pounds and fight off disease. The research helps companies seeking to breed chickens that will grow faster on less feed and require fewer drugs to stay healthy. ... Food producers face a monumental task. At current consumption rates, the world would need to generate 455 million metric tons of meat annually by 2050, when the global population is expected to reach 9.7 billion, from 7.3 billion today. Given today’s agricultural productivity, growing the crops to feed all of that poultry, beef and other livestock would require every acre of the planet’s cropland, according to research firm FarmEcon LLC—leaving no room for raising the grains, fruits and vegetables that humans also need. ... Chicken’s rise already is changing time-honored habits. In Argentina, where grass-fed beef has long been central to daily life, per-capita poultry consumption is projected to climb 7.5% this year to a record level, while beef consumption is expected to decline 6.3%. Even in pork-loving China, the government has subsidized large-scale poultry farms and breeding operations over the past decade to increase output.
Burgers and fries have nearly killed our ancestral microbiome. ... A group of Italian microbiologists had compared the intestinal microbes of young villagers in Burkina Faso with those of children in Florence, Italy. The villagers, who subsisted on a diet of mostly millet and sorghum, harbored far more microbial diversity than the Florentines, who ate a variant of the refined, Western diet. Where the Florentine microbial community was adapted to protein, fats, and simple sugars, the Burkina Faso microbiome was oriented toward degrading the complex plant carbohydrates we call fiber. ... Scientists suspect our intestinal community of microbes, the human microbiota, calibrates our immune and metabolic function, and that its corruption or depletion can increase the risk of chronic diseases, ranging from asthma to obesity. ... Numerous factors are implicated in these disappearances. Antibiotics, available after World War II, can work like napalm, indiscriminately flattening our internal ecosystems. Modern sanitary amenities, which began in the late 19th century, may limit sharing of disease- and health-promoting microbes alike. Today’s houses in today’s cities seal us away from many of the soil, plant, and animal microbes that rained down on us during our evolution, possibly limiting an important source of novelty. ... But what the Sonnenburgs’ experiment suggests is that by failing to adequately nourish key microbes, the Western diet may also be starving them out of existence.
Hormel’s best-known product is Spam. It’s easy to joke about a company built on meat that comes in a can, but it turns out that Hormel is having the last laugh. ... The growth has been fueled by a flood of new products: everything from peanut-butter snacks to single-serve turkey sticks to a food-service burger made with chicken, quinoa, and, yes, kale. All were developed in Austin—proof that innovation is defined by people, not zip codes. ... But Hormel’s success is also a story of acquisition and the persistent colonization of new food worlds. In the past five years, the old-school meat producer has paid more than $2.3 billion to acquire a portfolio of brands that sell organic food, ethnic food, and health(ier) food. They include Wholly Guacamole, Muscle Milk, Skippy peanut butter, and Applegate Farms. In May it agreed to buy Justin’s, the ultrahip nut-butter company, for $286 million. ... as companies invest in the eating habits of the emerging America—one that is more diverse, more pressed for time, and more concerned about ingredients and the ethics of food production. By that narrative, it’s not that Hormel has a better recipe than its peers. But it may have better cooks.
Hampton Creek never publicly admitted its numbers were wrong. It scrubbed its site of sustainability claims, and the Cookie Calculator vanished. Such quiet backpedaling might be forgivable at many young companies—overeager math isn’t unheard of in Silicon Valley. But at Hampton Creek, it fits a pattern of mistaken or exaggerated claims that may prove to be deliberately deceptive. ... the company deployed a national network of contractors to secretly buy back Just Mayo from grocery store shelves. ... Tetrick used supermarket sales figures much as he used the environmental claims—to raise venture capital ... His pitch: He would liberate billions of hens from the fetid misery of overstuffed cages—and in the process save water and grain and cut carbon pollution. Profane, charismatic, and built like the linebacker he once was, Tetrick became a tenacious evangelist for eliminating animal protein from the world’s diet. ... Tetrick contends that the mayo buyback program was primarily for quality-control purposes and cost just $77,000. ... A former accounting employee who worked with the company’s profit and loss statements says costs for the buybacks were included in several expense categories on the P&L, including one line item called “Inventory Consumed for Samples and Internal Testing.” As buybacks surged in 2014, Hampton Creek expensed about $1.4 million under this unusual category over five months, compared with $1.9 million of net sales in the period.
For years, enlightened restaurant-goers, shocked and horrified by Fast Food Nation, pink slime, and the evils of Big Food, have felt an almost religious pull to Chipotle’s "Food With Integrity" mission ... When a listeria outbreak caused by Dole’s packaged salads was linked to four deaths last year, the public outcry was not nearly as intense or sustained (despite an ongoing federal investigation). When Tesla reported its first driver fatality while using its Autopilot feature last June, it didn’t affect the company’s stock price at all. Why were these deaths only blips for Dole’s and Tesla’s reputations? By contrast, Chipotle spent a year in hell even though no one died—and more than 265,000 Americans get sick annually from illnesses linked to E. coli. ... Chipotle has had no choice but to grapple with the reality that its prestige status has evaporated. And there is no obvious road map for gaining it back. ... what’s ailing Chipotle is more pervasive and insidious than any foodborne illness. For Chipotle to win back all it has lost will require a soul-cleansing broader than perhaps even Ells and Moran realize. ... As Chipotle has grown, its operation has evolved to be anything but simple. The company purchases 185 million pounds of what it considers responsibly raised beef, pork, and chicken annually. ... Chipotle goes through more than 200,000 pounds of avocados daily ... The kitchen theatrics that Ells has deftly used to promote his food’s freshness to customers—the sizzling plancha, the tortilla grill—obscured that it was less safe than conventional fast food. The company had disclosed this fact to investors long before the crisis. ... Chipotle’s future hinges less on hourly audits or triple-washed lettuce or rewards programs than a reimagining of what Food With Integrity means for the next 20 years.
The restaurant wasn't the first Brazilian steakhouse chain in the U.S. — Rodizio Grill, which debuted in 1995, takes credit for that — but it was Fogo de Chão's aggressive expansion that introduced Americans to a new way to eat meat — an unlimited way, so to speak. In the last 20 years, the "Brazilian steakhouse" category has grown and gathered even more chain concepts (besides Fogo de Chão and Rodizio Grill, there's the Dallas-based Texas de Brazil and Tucanos) which, together, have 92 units spread all over the U.S. And that's not to mention the independently owned Brazilian steakhouses that don't belong to chains. ... The Fogo de Chão story started in 1979, when brothers Arri and Jair Coser bought, with two partners (Aleixo and Jorge Ongaratto, also brothers), an old and rustic churrascaria (or "steakhouse") called Fogo de Chão in the city of Porto Alegre. The act of churrasco (Portuguese for "barbecue") is an integral part of Brazilian culture: More than a meal, it's a celebration, whether Brazilians are hanging out with friends during the hot weekends or celebrating a birthday or even a wedding. The appeal of churrascarias permeates the country. ... GP Investments, made its initial investment in Fogo de Chão in 2006. GP acquired the brand outright in 2011, then sold its shares to American private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners in 2012 for $400 million.
Hrusovksy’s pitch to me is roughly the same as the one he just gave Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety—skittering from drones, to driverless cars, to Tesla, to heart attacks and diabetes. “I’m still addicted to pastries at night,” Hrusovsky says before circling back to his thesis: Quanterix’s machines are on the brink of delivering a revolution in medicine, as scientists use them to detect diseases earlier, target them more precisely, and create breakthrough treatments for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. ... Discovering, for instance, that half its linemen show signs of CTE could starve the league of talent or force changes that make it unrecognizable to fans. And football isn’t alone: CTE presents similarly dire questions for hockey, soccer, and ultimate fighting, among other contact sports. ... The method is a thousand times more sensitive than the Elisa, capable of detecting molecules in concentrations as low as 30,000 per drop—the equivalent, Hrusovsky says, of finding a grain of sand in 2,000 swimming pools.
Above a certain temperature, a cell will collapse and die. One of the most straightforward explanations for this lack of heat hardiness is that the proteins essential to life — the ones that extract energy from food or sunlight, fend off invaders, destroy waste products and so on — often have beautifully precise shapes. They start as long strands, then fold into helixes, hairpins and other configurations, as dictated by the sequence of their components. These shapes play a huge role in what they do. Yet when things start to heat up, the bonds that keep protein structures together break: first the weaker ones, and then, as the temperature mounts, the stronger ones. It makes sense that a pervasive loss of protein structure would be lethal, but until recently, the details of how, or if, this kills overheated cells were unknown. ... One of the clearest observations was that in each species, the proteins did not unfold en masse with a temperature boost. Instead, “we saw that only a small subset of proteins collapses very early,” Picotti said, “and these are key proteins.” ... This paradox — that some of the most important proteins seem to be the most delicate — may reflect how evolution has shaped them to do their jobs. ... The more copies the cell made, they reported, the more heat it took to break a protein down.
His laser focus on large pizza chains has allowed him to control as much as 85% of the market for pizza cheese and somehow sell simultaneously to a set of customers — Pizza Hut, Domino's, Papa John's and Little Caesars — that try to cut each others' throat in every way that doesn't involve where they buy their milk products. Dominating the market has its advantages: He's able to invest in technology that no run-of-the-mill dairy farmer ever could, resulting in more than 50 patents —and an estimated 7% net margin, which dwarfs the dairy-industry average. ... Quality is listed first intentionally. It's easy to mock his product (Frankencheese, anyone?), but Leprino Foods is one of the few dairy giants that have never had a recall. Every Monday at 11:30 a.m., Leprino walks down to the test kitchen along with two dozen of his most trusted executives for the weekly Monday Melts meeting like the one I attended. The executives test samples of the cheese produced for some 300 clients in 40 countries and check every complaint received the week before. ... Price has long been Leprino's biggest advantage, and a large one since cheese accounts for about 40% of a pizza's cost. Leprino's scale begat better prices, which begat more scale. And that scale also led to cost-saving breakthroughs that Leprino's fragmented competitors could neither catch up with technologically nor fight in patent court.